(HealthNewsDigest.com) – OMAHA, Neb., Aug. 28, 2018 — Across the county, many adolescents struggle with disruptive behavior ranging from aggression or rage toward others to outbursts in the classroom. These behaviors appear similar, but a recent brain-imaging study at Boys Town National Research Hospital suggests a youth’s prior exposure to abuse or neglect may impact the way that youth emotionally responds to the pain of others.
The exploratory study, moderation of prior exposure to trauma on the inverse relationship between callous-unemotional traits and amygdala responses to fearful expressions, published in Psychological Medicine.
Currently, all youth with problems in expressing empathy and guilt receive the same interventions. Findings from this study revealed results that may help map new behavioral interventions. First, the data suggests that not all youth with disruptive disorder face the same difficulty – and therefore need different interventions. Second, the data reinforced the importance of considering an individual’s trauma history. Third, the data indicates that behavioral symptoms alone may not be sufficient to accurately guide treatment decisions.
“If you could not empathize with another’s pain or distress, you would be less concerned by hurting another individual,” said James Blair, Ph.D., Susan and George Haddix Endowed Chair in Neurobehavioral Research at Boys Town National Research Hospital. “Empathy can act as a barrier against aggressive behavior.”
Harma Meffert, Ph.D., scientist at the Boys Town Center for Neurobehavioral Research, led the study that investigated how the amygdala (brain region that controls empathy) responds to distress in others in youth with varying levels of prior trauma. The study used an MRI machine to measure youths’ brain responses to fearful expressions in others. The youth also filled out a questionnaire and received a psychological interview on prior traumatic events (abuse and neglect).
The study indicated that not everyone showing the behavioral signs of reduced empathy/guilt also shows the brain signs of reduced empathy/guilt. In particular, youth that are exposed to significant prior trauma do not show the brain signs of reduced empathy/guilt, despite similar behavioral signs of reduced empathy/guilt.
The Center for Neurobehavioral Research at Boys Town National Research Hospital is working to improve the care of children with emotional and behavioral problems by developing better assessments in order to find the best interventions for each child individually.
To follow the progress of this work, please visit boystownhospital.org/research.